“Stay In Yo Lane,” a famous line by none other than the polarizing figure, LaVar Ball, is never more applicable than when talking about coaching college football versus the NFL. Before diving into the Lovie Smith dilemma, think about how Nick Saban and John Harbaugh faired as professional coaches compared to the success they have had in college. Pete Carroll is one of the few outliers to this, who has actually won a college title and a Superbowl.
As regards to Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, he had a decent NFL run with the Chicago Bears. An 89-87 record along with a trip to the Superbowl is nothing to hold your head over. When you consider the fact that he never truly had any offensive dazzling players, it is an even more impressive feat. Devin Hester was probably the most explosive player he had, and his duties were primarily special teams. This speaks volume to how good at bringing the best out of in his players Smith is. And when you’re dealing with grown men, who are proven players, it is a very important aspect of coaching in the professional game. Unfortunately, these skills don’t translate as well to the college game, and if you can’t recruit you can’t compete.
In the NFL, Lovie Smith was able to do an acceptable job with the Chicago Bears thanks to the grown men battling each other, in a setting where talent disadvantages had a minimal effect on the outcome of the game. For instance, he took a team to the Superbowl led by perennial backup quarterback Rex Grossman. College football is the complete opposite, and recruiting the best talent is what delivers wins in the NCAA.
In his two seasons with the Fighting Illini, his teams have lacked in the talent department in a big way, which has led to some utterly disappointing seasons. With the roster covered in youth, sophomore dual quarterback Cam Thomas will look to maximize his skills this season, where dual quarterbacks are the premium at the position. However, his passing ability leaves a lot to be desired, but his freshman production did match that of Khalil Tate, now star quarterback and Heisman candidate at the University of Arizona. His rushing abilities will certainly produce some must-see highlights, but it remains to be seen if Thomas lead this extremely young squad and actually produce wins.
Outside of weeks one and two wins in any other game would come as an upset and a surprise. After a two-win 2017 campaign, with zero wins in Big 10 play, 2018 could be very similar unless something starts to click for this talent-depleted group. Their best chances will come against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland, and we think Lovie will be able to pull some tricks out of his hat and steal two of those games, but more importantly, keep his job.
Record: Wins 4, Losses 8
Week 1: Illinois 38, Kent State 14
Week 2: Illinois 42, Western Illinois 20
Week 3: Illinois 20, USF 34
Week 4: Illinois 9, Penn State 35
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: Illinois 30, Rutgers 27
Week 7: Illinois 21, Purdue 28
Week 8: Illinois 17, Wisconsin 31
Week 9: Illinois 24, Maryland 27
Week 10: Illinois 28, Minnesota 20
Week 11: Illinois 30, Nebraska 38
Week 12: Illinois 23, Iowa 38
Week 13: Illinois 21, Northwestern 25